Ajax Diner — Oxford, Mississippi

ajaxLots of people ask you lots of questions when you vacation to Mississippi. Why are you there? Are you having fun? Where are you from that makes you want to vacation in Mississippi? Did you get lost? Seriously, why are you there?

Dudefriend and I made our way to Water Valley (Read more about the small town in this Garden and Gun story), Oxford and Clarksdale about a month ago for a three-day getaway and no, we weren’t lost. We went for the music (Clarksdale is the birthplace of the blues) and to be off-the-grid (really, you’re off the grid. I didn’t have cell service half of the time). But we mostly went for the food.

Oh man, y’all. The food.

From tamales to soul food to barbecue, Mississippi’s got you covered. That was pretty evident on the first day, when we stopped at Ajax Diner on the Square in Oxford.

Ajax is pretty much an institution in Oxford and from what I had read, we should expect a crowd. We got tremendously lucky, though, because we arrived around noon on a Wednesday before classes began, so the town was pretty empty. However, the diner was still busy and we squeezed into the last booth available. (Added bonus: There was a print above our booth that said “Prince loves Ajax” and I’m a sucker for anything relating to Prince.)

Full disclosure: No matter the day, I love to start vacation with a cocktail or beer (or two). But ordering a cocktail at noon on a Wednesday at most places will get you a judging glare. Not at Ajax. After sitting down, the server came over immediately and took our bloody mary order and didn’t even flinch. Five minutes later our super well-made bloody mary came out from the full bar. Yes, a diner with a full bar. I was sold before the food even came out a few minutes later.

And, again, oh, man. The food.

I ordered fried catfish, squash casserole and mac and cheese – a very orange/yellowish plate, but whatever. I was on vacation. You don’t eat greens when you’re on vacation.

The catfish was pretty stellar – it was fried perfectly with a great crunch and lots of spices. And the squash casserole was bangin’, too – lots of butter and cheese. The entire point of squash casserole is getting a semi-healthy food – squash – and turning it into an artery-blocking side, and it definitely succeeded.

But that mac and cheese. Y’all, that mac and cheese.

(Just a reminder of how delicious it looks:)

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Actually, it should probably be renamed cheese and macaroni, because the noodles were swimming in some seriously legit Cheddar. It was absolute gooey goodness. To top it off, they sprinkled lots of pepper in it, giving it a killer spicy aftertaste. Even though they gave a solid portion and I had plenty more food to eat, I wanted more. I wanted lots more.

“How do people sing the blues in this state when this exists?” I asked Dudefriend.

I then “made” him take a bite, and his eyes went all wide. “You’re going to say this is the best, right? Because this is definitely the best mac I’ve had.”

Is it the best mac I’ve had? No, but I’ve eaten a lot of mac in my 29 years. Is it in the top five? Oh yeah. It’s so good it almost makes me want to say “Hotty Toddy.” Almost.

Should you try this mac and cheese? Yes

Rating: 9 out of 10

More info here

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Taco Mama — Mountain Brook, Alabama

(null)Taco Mama

Locations: Mountain Brook, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa

Website

When you think “mac and cheese,” Mexican restaurants probably don’t come to mind. But if Taco Mama is any indication, you should consider mac and cheese with your burritos.

Taco Mama has three locations: Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village, Huntsville and downtown Tuscaloosa. Dudefriend and I made our way to the Crestline location on a recent Friday night. The place was packed: there were about six people in front of us in line, and almost every table inside and outside was occupied. After a 15-minute wait, we ordered and got the last empty table inside.

Obligatory warning: If you’re not into family-friendly restaurants, you may want to think twice before making your way to the Crestline location. Almost every table besides ours was occupied by families with children, but remember: it’s 2015. All of the kids were playing on their iPads (thank you forever, Steve Jobs) and digging into their food and were probably more well-behaved than your friend who still tells “that’s what she said” jokes. So, there are a lot of kids and parents, but you’re not going to get judged for ordering a marg or two. We certainly didn’t.

After a 10-minute wait, we got our food. I ordered the mix-and-match two taco deal. I picked the Mayor (marinated chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, creamy cilantro pesto and queso fresco) which was a bit above average, but luckily the Alabama Redneck (roasted pull pork, ancho chile sauce, pickles, Mama’s Chipotle Barbecue Sauce) was flavorful and phenomenal. Definitely a must-try. The tacos came with lots of chips and salsa (fresh with a nice spicy kick) and a choice of a side. I went with the Mexican Mac and Cheese because that’s what I’m here for, y’all.

With a name like Mexican Mac and Cheese, you expect something with a bit of a kick. Maybe some jalapenos. Maybe some red peppers. Maybe some corn. There was none of this — it was just your standard mac and cheese with ziti noodles and four cheeses. But I forgave Taco Mama for the poor naming after the first bite. It was super hot and creamy and cheesy and everything mac and cheese should be. And although Taco Mama gives you an ample helping of the mac (and plenty of other food), I was bummed when I ate the last bite — even though it was physically impossible for me to eat anything else. That’s how tasty it is.

The best part? Taco Mama’s prices are on point. All of this fresh food (two tacos, chips and salsa, mac) cost $9. If you just want a side of mac it’ll cost you $3; and a kids’ serving (plus chips and salsa) will just cost you $4.

It’s definitely worth the wait in line.

Should you try the mac? Yes oh my goodness Yes.
Rating: 8.5